The Method of the Qabalah

The Mystical Qabalah

~Dion Fortune

1. Speaking of the method of the Qabalah, one of the ancient Rabbis says that an angel coming down to earth would have to take on human form in order to converse with men. The curious symbol-system known to us as the Tree of Life is an attempt to reduce to diagrammatic form every force and factor in the manifested universe and the soul of man; to correlate them one to another and reveal them spread out as on a map so that the relative positions of each unit can be seen and the relations between them traced. In brief, the Tree of Life is a compendium of science, psychology, philosophy, and theology.

2. The student of the Qabalah goes to work in exactly the opposite way to the student of natural science; the latter builds up synthetic concepts; the former analyses abstract concepts. It goes without saying, however, that before a concept can be analysed it must first be assembled. Someone must have thought out the principles that are resumed in the symbol which is the object of meditation of the Qabalist. Who then were the first Qabalists who built up the whole scheme? The Rabbis are unanimdus upon this point, they were angels. In other words, it was beings of another order of creation than humanity who gave the Chosen People their Qabalah.

3. To the modern mind this may seem as absurd a statement as the doctrine that babies are found under gooseberry bushes; but if we study the many mystical systems of comparative religion we find that all the illuminati are in agreement upon this point. All men and women who have had practical experience of the spiritual life tell us that they are taught by Divine beings. We shall be very foolish if we altogether disregard such a cloud of witnesses, especially those of us who never have had any personal experience of the higher states of consciousness.

4. There are some psychologists who will tell us that the Angels of the Qabalists and the Gods and Manus of other systems are our own repressed complexes; there are others with less limited outlook who will tell us that these Divine beings are the latent capacities of our own higher selves. To the devotional mystic this is not a point of any great moment; he gets his results, and that is all he cares about; but the philosophical mystic, in other words the occultist, thinks the matter out and arrives at certain conclusions. These conclusions, however, can only be understood when we know what we mean by reality and have a clear line of demarcation between the subjective and the objective. Any one who is trained in philosophical method knows that this is asking a good deal.

5. The Indian schools of metaphysics have most elaborate and intricate systems of philosophy which attempt to define these ideas and render them thinkable; and though generations of seers have given their lives to the task, the concepts still remain so abstract that it is only after a long course of discipline, called Yoga in the East, that the mind is able to apprehend them at all.

6. The Qabalist goes to work in a different way. He does not attempt to make the mind rise up on the wings of metaphysics into the rarefied air of abstract reality; he formulates a concrete symbol that the eye can see, and lets it represent the abstract reality that no untrained human mind can grasp.

7. It is exactly the same principle as algebra. Let X represent the unknown quantity, let Y represent the half of X, and let Z represent something we know. If we begin to experiment with Y; to find out its relation to Z, and in what proportions, it soon ceases to be entirely unknown; we have learnt something at any rate about it; and if we are sufficiently skilful we may in the end be able to express Y in terms of Z, and then we shall begin to understand X.

8. There are a great many symbols which are used as objects of meditation; the Cross in Christendom; the God-forms in the Egyptian system; phallic symbols in other faiths. These symbols are used by the uninitiated as a means of concentrating the mind and introducing into it certain thoughts, calling up certain associated ideas, and stimulating certain feelings. The initiate, however, uses a symbol-system differently; he uses it as an algebra by means of which he will read the secrets of unknown potencies; in other words, he uses the symbol as a means of guiding thought out into the Unseen and Incomprehensible.

9. And how does he do this? He does it by using a composite symbol; a symbol which is an unattached unit would not serve his purpose. In contemplating such a composite symbol as the Tree of Life he observes that there are definite relations between its parts. There are some parts of which he knows something; there are others of which he can intuit something, or, more crudely, make a guess, reasoning from first principles. The mind leaps from one known to another known and in so doing traverses certain distances, metaphorically speaking; it is like a traveller in the desert who knows the situation of two oases and makes a forced march between them. He would never have dared to push out into the desert from the first oasis if he had not known the location of the second; but at the end of his journey he not only knows much more about the characteristics of the second oasis, but he has also observed the country lying between them. Thus, making forced marches from oasis to oasis, backwards and forwards across the desert, he gradually explores it; nevertheless, the desert is incapable of supporting life.

10. So it is with the Qabalistic system of notation. The things it renders are unthinkable and yet the mind, tracking from symbol to symbol, manages to think about them; and although we have to be content to see in a glass darkly, yet we have every reason to hope that ultimately we shall see face to face and know even as we are known; for the human mind grows by exercise, and that which was at first as unthinkable as mathematics to the child who cannot manage his sums, finally comes within the range of our realisation. By thinking about a thing, we build concepts of it.

11. It is said that thought grew out of language, not language out of thought. What words are to thought, symbols are to intuition. Curious as it may seem, the symbol precedes the elucidation; that is why we declare that the Qabalah is a growing system, not a historic monument. There is more to be got out of the Qabalistic symbols to-day than there was in the time of the old dispensation because our mental content is richer in ideas. How much more, for instance, does the Sephirah Yesod, wherein work the forces of growth and reproduction, mean to the biologist than to the ancient rabbi? Everything that has to do with growth and reproduction is resumed in the Sphere of the Moon. But this Sphere, as represented upon the Tree of Life, is set about with Paths leading to other Sephiroth; therefore the biological Qabalist knows that there must be certain definite relationships between the forces subsumed in Yesod and those represented by the symbols assigned to these Paths. Brooding over these symbols, he gets glimpses of relationships that do not reveal themselves when the material aspect of things is considered; and when he comes to work these out in the material of his studies he finds that therein are hidden important clues; and so upon the Tree, one thing leads to another, explanation of hidden causes arising out of the proportions and relations of the various individual symbols composing this mighty synthetic glyph.

12. Each symbol, moreover, admits of interpretation upon the different planes, and through its astrological associations can be related to the gods of any pantheon, thus opening up vast new fields of implication in which the mind ranges endlessly, symbol leading on to symbol in an unbroken chain of associations; symbol confirming symbol as the many-branching threads gather themselves together into a synthetic glyph once more, and each symbol capable of interpretation in terms of whatever plane the mind may be functioning upon.

13. This mighty, all-embracing glyph of the soul of man and of the universe, by virtue of its logical association of symbols, evokes images in the mind; but these images are not randomly evolved, but follow along well-defined association-tracks in the Universal Mind. The symbol of the Tree is to the Universal Mind what the dream is to - the individual ego - it is a glyph synthetised from subconsciousness to represent the hidden forces.

14. The universe is really a thought-form projected from the mind of God. The Qabalistic Tree might be likened to a dream-picture arising from the subconsciousness of God and dramatising the subconscious content of Deity. In other words, if the universe is the conscious end-product of the mental activity of the Logos, the Tree is the symbolic representation of the raw material of the Divine consciousness and of the processes whereby the universe came into being.

15. But the Tree applies not only to the Macrocosm but to the Microcosm which, as all occultists realise, is a replica in miniature. It is for this reason that divination is possible. That little-understood and much-maligned art has for its philosophical basis the System of Correspondences represented by symbols. The correspondences between the soul of man and the universe are not arbitrary, but arise out of developmental identities. Certain aspects of consciousness were developed in response to certain phases of evolution, and therefore embody the same principles; consequently they react to the same influences. A man's soul is like a lagoon connected with the sea by a submerged channel; although to all outward seeming it is land-locked, nevertheless its waterlevel rises and falls with the tides of the sea because of the hidden connection. So it is with human consciousness, there is a subconscious connection between each individual soul and the World-soul deep hidden in the most primitive depths of subconsciousness, and in consequence we share in the rise and fall of the cosmic tides.

16. Each symbol upon the Tree represents a cosmic force or factor. When the mind concentrates upon it, it comes into touch with that force; in other words, a surface channel, a channel in consciousness, has been made between the conscious mind of the individual and a particular factor in the world-soul, and through this channel the waters of the ocean pour into the lagoon. The aspirant who uses the Tree as his meditation-symbol establishes point by point the union between his soul and the world-soul. This results in a tremendous access of energy to the individual soul; it is this which endows it with magical powers.

17. But just as the universe must be ruled by God, so must the many-sided soul of man be ruled by its god-the spirit of man. The Higher Self must dominate its universe or there will be unbalanced force; each factor will rule its own aspect, and they will war among themselves. Then do we have the rule of the Kings of Edom, whose kingdoms are unbalanced force.

18. Thus do we see in the Tree a glyph of the soul of man and the universe, and in the legends associated with it the history of the evolution of the soul and the Way of Initiation.